The grind of performing under pressure can become a personal mental chess match when you are a professional golfer.
Nick Kenney is a rookie on the Canadian Tour who knows exactly how stressful the life can be.
Qualifications for the tour occur annually, and involve a competitive field of anywhere from 70-80 players, with only the top seven to 10 golfers attaining their cards.
“It took me four tries to make the Canadian Tour,” said the 27-year-old. “So it takes a lot of time and it was definitely an eye-opener for me … after a week-long grind on my fourth attempt, I just kind of said to myself ‘thankfully, it’s about time’.
“It was more of a relief than anything.”
This first season was a trial, as his best finish was a tie for 104th, symbolic of the steep learning curve he had to go through. He missed eight cuts, leaving him to ponder his future.
“After a bad week, absolutely there’s always that initial feeling of wanting to quit,” he said. “I love golf but the grind alone of travelling, eating different foods, trying to figure out where to go, playing new courses, it was definitely a grind.
“It was stressful for sure and there were points where I absolutely wanted to quit.”
The time it took for him to get to this point, though, was next to nothing compared to the dedication he put into his training regime at a young age. While his grandparents first got him into golf when he was four years old, he began to take lessons by the age of 14.
“For me the progression was just playing more [golf],” said the Etobicoke native. “In high school I just kept getting better and better so I went down to Florida for school and golf lessons and that’s kind of where it progressed.
“That got me into college, and from there I just started liking it more and more.”
Earning a golf scholarship to Old Dominion in Virginia, Kenney met and played with several household names currently on the PGA Tour, including Ricky Barnes, Ryan Moore and Nick Watney.
It was his experience at college that first exposed him to the type of lifestyle he was about to enter into.
“I was definitely down there more for golf,” he said. “So I was just kind of getting by in school, getting the marks I needed to stay on the team.
“But I was playing in 13 tournaments during the school year, which is a lot. So it took me an extra half year to graduate, but I liked it.”
He also travelled all throughout the United States to play, and even down to Puerto Rico for a tournament.
Almost four years later and the jump to professional golf, but the travelling has picked up substantially for Kenney. One particular tournament in Mexico had him questioning the whole experience.
“Where we stayed there was a lot of poverty, and maybe one resort,” he said. “It wasn’t vacation-type Mexico. Over half of the guys got sick from the food, and my buddy got jumped one night so he ended up leaving early.
“A couple of the guys skipped the second week because it was a shady place and they were fearing for their safety. It’s not some place where you’d want to go every week.”
The mental grind associated with travelling and playing in a competitive field, trying to make a living, was something Kenney was struggling to adjust to. Making the cuts in tournaments was proving to be a difficult task for the 27-year-old and he had to rely on inner strength.
“It’s just a battle with yourself, you know,” he said. “It’s only you out there, and [it’s tough] especially in Mexico. I had caddies who didn’t speak English and were wearing their jeans and construction boots in 100 degree weather, so it was quite the experience.
“But you just have to convince yourself, and say ‘you’ve been in this position, just keep doing what you’re doing’. Out there, you have to realize you almost can’t shoot over par. That’s the mental grind.”
He couldn’t overcome the mental aspects of the game by himself though, as he enlisted the help of a sports psychologist who has worked with professional golfers such as Stewart Cink and Tim Clark.
“[The psychologist] was good for me,” said Kenney. “He got me to think more of being aware of my body moving, rather than being anxious of where the ball is going. It’s all about getting your body and mind relaxed before you hit your golf shot.
“That’s what he was trying to teach me, and it seemed to work. That was the tough part, trying to figure out what works for me. That’s what I’ve been doing in the last six months, trying to figure out the mental spot where I need to be to play my best.”
Now that his first career Canadian Tour season has wrapped up (in August), Kenney will have plenty of time to search for the right formula in time for March when the Tour kicks into full gear again. He has also had the opportunity to analyze his game and hopes to parlay that experience into success in the future.
“I learned my weaknesses and what I have to get better at,” he said. “I have to work harder. I mean those guys [on the Canadian Tour] work so hard and have no doubt in any shot they’re hitting, whereas I might because I haven’t practiced enough or been in that situation enough.”
While he dedicates this offseason to improving his short game, the long-haul journey to his ultimate goal of playing on the PGA Tour is just getting started. And it will begin next season with another qualifying tournament for the Canadian Tour.